Dombey and Son
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200 201 Next page
encouragement. He was so lavish of this condescension, that he not
only bowed to her, in a particular manner, on several occasions, but
even entrusted such stately recognitions of her to his sister as 'pray
tell your friend, Louisa, that she is very good,' or 'mention to Miss
Tox, Louisa, that I am obliged to her;'specialities which made a deep
impression on the lady thus distinguished.
Whether Miss Tox conceived that having been selected by the Fates
to welcome the little Dombey before he was born, in Kirby, Beard and
Kirby's Best Mixed Pins, it therefore naturally devolved upon her to
greet him with all other forms of welcome in all other early stages of
his existence - or whether her overflowing goodness induced her to
volunteer into the domestic militia as a substitute in some sort for
his deceased Mama - or whether she was conscious of any other motives
- are questions which in this stage of the Firm's history herself only
could have solved. Nor have they much bearing on the fact (of which
there is no doubt), that Miss Tox's constancy and zeal were a heavy
discouragement to Richards, who lost flesh hourly under her patronage,
and was in some danger of being superintended to death.
Miss Tox was often in the habit of assuring Mrs Chick, that nothing
could exceed her interest in all connected with the development of
that sweet child;' and an observer of Miss Tox's proceedings might
have inferred so much without declaratory confirmation. She would
preside over the innocent repasts of the young heir, with ineffable
satisfaction, almost with an air of joint proprietorship with Richards
in the entertainment. At the little ceremonies of the bath and
toilette, she assisted with enthusiasm. The administration of
infantine doses of physic awakened all the active sympathy of her
character; and being on one occasion secreted in a cupboard (whither
she had fled in modesty), when Mr Dombey was introduced into the
nursery by his sister, to behold his son, in the course of preparation
for bed, taking a short walk uphill over Richards's gown, in a short
and airy linen jacket, Miss Tox was so transported beyond the ignorant
present as to be unable to refrain from crying out, 'Is he not
beautiful Mr Dombey! Is he not a Cupid, Sir!' and then almost sinking
behind the closet door with confusion and blushes.
'Louisa,' said Mr Dombey, one day, to his sister, 'I really think I
must present your friend with some little token, on the occasion of
Paul's christening. She has exerted herself so warmly in the child's
behalf from the first, and seems to understand her position so
thoroughly (a very rare merit in this world, I am sorry to say), that
it would really be agreeable to me to notice her.'
Let it be no detraction from the merits of Miss Tox, to hint that
in Mr Dombey's eyes, as in some others that occasionally see the
light, they only achieved that mighty piece of knowledge, the
understanding of their own position, who showed a fitting reverence
for his. It was not so much their merit that they knew themselves, as
that they knew him, and bowed low before him.
'My dear Paul,' returned his sister, 'you do Miss Tox but justice,
as a man of your penetration was sure, I knew, to do. I believe if
there are three words in the English language for which she has a
respect amounting almost to veneration, those words are, Dombey and
'Well,' said Mr Dombey, 'I believe it. It does Miss Tox credit.'
'And as to anything in the shape of a token, my dear Paul,' pursued
his sister, 'all I can say is that anything you give Miss Tox will be
hoarded and prized, I am sure, like a relic. But there is a way, my
dear Paul, of showing your sense of Miss Tox's friendliness in a still
more flattering and acceptable manner, if you should be so inclined.'
'How is that?' asked Mr Dombey.
'Godfathers, of course,' continued Mrs Chick, 'are important in
point of connexion and influence.'
'I don't know why they should be, to my son, said Mr Dombey,
'Very true, my dear Paul,' retorted Mrs Chick, with an
extraordinary show of animation, to cover the suddenness of her
conversion; 'and spoken like yourself. I might have expected nothing
else from you. I might have known that such would have been your
opinion. Perhaps;' here Mrs Chick faltered again, as not quite
comfortably feeling her way; 'perhaps that is a reason why you might
have the less objection to allowing Miss Tox to be godmother to the
dear thing, if it were only as deputy and proxy for someone else. That
it would be received as a great honour and distinction, Paul, I need
'Louisa,' said Mr Dombey, after a short pause, 'it is not to be
supposed - '
'Certainly not,' cried Mrs Chick, hastening to anticipate a
refusal, 'I never thought it was.'
Mr Dombey looked at her impatiently.
'Don't flurry me, my dear Paul,' said his sister; 'for that
destroys me. I am far from strong. I have not been quite myself, since
poor dear Fanny departed.'
Mr Dombey glanced at the pocket-handkerchief which his sister
applied to her eyes, and resumed:
'It is not be supposed, I say 'And I say,' murmured Mrs Chick,
'that I never thought it was.'
'Good Heaven, Louisa!' said Mr Dombey.
'No, my dear Paul,' she remonstrated with tearful dignity, 'I must
really be allowed to speak. I am not so clever, or so reasoning, or so
eloquent, or so anything, as you are. I know that very well. So much
the worse for me. But if they were the last words I had to utter - and
last words should be very solemn to you and me, Paul, after poor dear
Fanny - I would still say I never thought it was. And what is more,'
added Mrs Chick with increased dignity, as if she had withheld her
crushing argument until now, 'I never did think it was.' Mr Dombey
walked to the window and back again.
'It is not to be supposed, Louisa,' he said (Mrs Chick had nailed
her colours to the mast, and repeated 'I know it isn't,' but he took
no notice of it), 'but that there are many persons who, supposing that
I recognised any claim at all in such a case, have a claim upon me
superior to Miss Tox's. But I do not. I recognise no such thing. Paul
and myself will be able, when the time comes, to hold our own - the
House, in other words, will be able to hold its own, and maintain its
own, and hand down its own of itself, and without any such
common-place aids. The kind of foreign help which people usually seek
for their children, I can afford to despise; being above it, I hope.
So that Paul's infancy and childhood pass away well, and I see him
becoming qualified without waste of time for the career on which he is
destined to enter, I am satisfied. He will make what powerful friends
he pleases in after-life, when he is actively maintaining - and
extending, if that is possible - the dignity and credit of the Firm.
Until then, I am enough for him, perhaps, and all in all. I have no
wish that people should step in between us. I would much rather show
my sense of the obliging conduct of a deserving person like your
friend. Therefore let it be so; and your husband and myself will do
well enough for the other sponsors, I daresay.'
In the course of these remarks, delivered with great majesty and
grandeur, Mr Dombey had truly revealed the secret feelings of his
breast. An indescribable distrust of anybody stepping in between
himself and his son; a haughty dread of having any rival or partner in
the boy's respect and deference; a sharp misgiving, recently acquired,
that he was not infallible in his power of bending and binding human
wills; as sharp a jealousy of any second check or cross; these were,
at that time the master keys of his soul. In all his life, he had
never made a friend. His cold and distant nature had neither sought
one, nor found one. And now, when that nature concentrated its whole
force so strongly on a partial scheme of parental interest and
ambition, it seemed as if its icy current, instead of being released
by this influence, and running clear and free, had thawed for but an
instant to admit its burden, and then frozen with it into one
Elevated thus to the godmothership of little Paul, in virtue of her
insignificance, Miss Tox was from that hour chosen and appointed to
office; and Mr Dombey further signified his pleasure that the
ceremony, already long delayed, should take place without further
postponement. His sister, who had been far from anticipating so signal
a success, withdrew as soon as she could, to communicate it to her
best of friends; and Mr Dombey was left alone in his library. He had
already laid his hand upon the bellrope to convey his usual summons to
Richards, when his eye fell upon a writing-desk, belonging to his
deceased wife, which had been taken, among other things, from a
cabinet in her chamber. It was not the first time that his eye had
lighted on it He carried the key in his pocket; and he brought it to
his table and opened it now - having previously locked the room door -
with a well-accustomed hand.
From beneath a leaf of torn and cancelled scraps of paper, he took
one letter that remained entire. Involuntarily holding his breath as
he opened this document, and 'bating in the stealthy action something
of his arrogant demeanour, he s at down, resting his head upon one
hand, and read it through.
He read it slowly and attentively, and with a nice particularity to
every syllable. Otherwise than as his great deliberation seemed
unnatural, and perhaps the result of an effort equally great, he
allowed no sign of emotion to escape him. When he had read it through,
he folded and refolded it slowly several times, and tore it carefully
into fragments. Checking his hand in the act of throwing these away,
he put them in his pocket, as if unwilling to trust them even to the
chances of being re-united and deciphered; and instead of ringing, as
usual, for little Paul, he sat solitary, all the evening, in his
There was anything but solitude in the nursery; for there, Mrs
Chick and Miss Tox were enjoying a social evening, so much to the
disgust of Miss Susan Nipper, that that young lady embraced every
opportunity of making wry faces behind the door. Her feelings were so
much excited on the occasion, that she found it indispensable to
afford them this relief, even without having the comfort of any
audience or sympathy whatever. As the knight-errants of old relieved
their minds by carving their mistress's names in deserts, and
wildernesses, and other savage places where there was no probability
of there ever being anybody to read them, so did Miss Susan Nipper
curl her snub nose into drawers and wardrobes, put away winks of
disparagement in cupboards, shed derisive squints into stone pitchers,
and contradict and call names out in the passage.
The two interlopers, however, blissfully unconscious of the young
lady's sentiments, saw little Paul safe through all the stages of